He may humbly chuckle when you call him “The Father of Smooth Jazz,” as he is known. But Tom Grant was making this enduring and beautiful music long before its name was officially coined.
“I was around when this kind of crossover music didn’t really have a name,” he said in an interview this week from his hometown of Portland.
In fact, this smooth jazz pioneer has been “around” for more than 40 years, and in that time he has released 25 albums (four of which went to #1 on adult contemporary charts), his latest being 2010’s “Delicioso.” A series of his albums – including “Mango Tango” (1988), “In My Wildest Dream” (1992) and “The View from Here” (1993) – topped smooth jazz charts for nearly 20 years.
Along the way, he started his own label and toured Japan and Indonesia behind releases that include Life Is Good (2008) and Solo Piano (2003).
He’s performed on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” has composed extensively for TV shows and film, has played with jazz greats like drummer Tony Williams (Miles Davis), tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and the late Woody Shaw. The list goes on.
On March 10, local music lovers will get a chance to experience this master pianist’s magic when he headlines Jazz LIVE at Marine View with longtime collaborator David Captein on upright and electric bass, versatile drummer Jeff Frankel and special guest vocalist Shelly Rudolph. This 5 p.m. concert will be held at Marine View Church in Brown’s Point, 8469 Eastside Dr. N.E., and admission is free to all ages.
Grant says the playlist will be varied and include many genres of music. “We’ll do some originals and then veer off into jazz standards and Great American Songbook type songs… Then we might do some pop and r&b tunes. We’re all over the board actually,” he said. Grant said he is looking forward to performing with Rudolph, as he enjoys working with vocalists in general.
“I like accompanying singers, so I play with all the different ones coming out of Portland – Nancy King, Rebecca Kilgore – but Shelly (Rudolph) I’ve worked with the most. We had a regular gig four nights a week here in Portland, so we have a wide-ranging repertoire.”
What won’t be varied will be the level of pure happiness that audiences certainly feel from seeing Grant perform live at all of his shows. This man is in his element onstage, his smiling face and buoyant playing revealing his pure joy while making music.
“The one thing I try to do in my piano playing is to go for beauty,” he said. “I love the beauty and sound of the piano. I don’t go for shock and awe, I don’t try to disturb people or make them think. I like to approach music like everything should effect people’s heart and soul and be as beautiful as possible.”
Grant said the first time he played Tacoma was about 25 years ago. He laughed as he recalled being booked to play the Tacoma Dome with its capacity of 25,000-plus.
It’s true that Grant can fill a venue, but filling the Dome was another story. “There was nobody there. It was incredible. I don’t know how they got such a booking – it was kind of bizarre,” he said.
Organized by dedicated jazz fan Jim Foster, Jazz LIVE at Marine View has grown to be a most popular event, as it regularly features the best of the best in the genre.
“The master pianist, singer, songwriter has married his improvisational jazz fusion styles with the warm, melodic grooves to keep fans searching for the rare live appearance in the Puget Sound,” Foster wrote of Grant. “He’s eager to share his subtle, skillful music, both through his touch on piano and in his voice.”
Grant’s current projects include working with Portland jazz singer Toni Lincoln to produce a CD on his record label. “She’s an authentic, old school jazz singer like Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Ella,” Grant said. He’s also piecing together his own record. No word yet on its release date, but at this point in his career Grant has earned the luxury of releasing his music when it’s right for him. When all is said and done, he’s happy as long as he’s making music. “I feel really lucky to do this. The only way I’ll ever retire is when I physically can’t do it anymore.”
To keep up with all that Grant is up to with his music, visit http://www.tomgrant.com and “like” him on Facebook. The Jazz LIVE at Marine View series continues April 14 with Tuscon-based saxophonist Neamen Lyles; May 19 with vibraphonist Susan Pascal; and June 9 with Kareem Kandi Band and Northwest legends Bill Ramsay and Jay Thomas. Visit http://www.marineviewpc.org.